The growing intolerance and undercurrent of violence in South Africa is fuelled by the attitudes and utterances of our most senior politicians.
Virtually every day now, we’re confronted with someone stating in public that they would “kill for” or “die for” someone or something.
Some, like former ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema, even switched the cause they would die for within a few years. He repeatedly and darkly warned in 2008 that he and his comrades would kill for President Jacob Zuma, and now he’s prepared to die for his efforts to unseat Zuma – and, he adds, he’s also prepared to die for “economic liberation”.
The striking mine workers at Marikana declared they would die for their demand of a wage of R12 500 a month, and then some of them did. The striking farmworkers at De Doorns tell the television cameras they’re prepared to die for their demand for a wage of R150 a day.
The Umkhonto we Sizwe Veterans Association regularly declare they’re prepared to kill or die for something, nowadays mostly for Zuma. Remember the sight of a man, reportedly an MK veteran, lying on the road to Nkandla to prevent the DA’s tiny contingent from proceeding to Zuma’s enclave, saying to the television camera he would rather die than see Zuma’s village “violated”?
When the DA marched on Cosatu House in Joburg to protest against the trade union federation’s opposition to the youth wage subsidy, senior Cosatu leaders called on their members to “defend” their offices and, during the scuffles with DA supporters, some Cosatu members said they were prepared to die rather than allow the opposition to attack their headquarters.
Some ANC leaders, especially from the South African Communist Party and the youth league, fuel this kind of psychosis with their regular statements about the ANC or the black majority or “the revolution” being under attack from enemies ranging from neo-liberals, neo-leftists, whites, clever blacks, sell-outs and counter-revolutionaries to capitalists and Western imperialists. They have become worse than PW Botha and Magnus Malan with |their pathological “total onslaught” obsession.
Even that old loyal ANC cadre, Professor Jakes Gerwel, remarked last week that “Polokwane” had given tacit permission for the reintroduction of “violent speech” (geweldspraak) in our political |discourse.
The ANC has again allowed threatening statements with violent undercurrents to become the currency of the leadership struggle on the way to the elective conference in Mangaung next month.
We see this kind of aggressive intolerance reflected in Parliament, with the ANC’s chief whip, Mathole Motshekga, in the forefront.
We see it reflected in the growing animosity towards the media, the political opposition, the judiciary and NGOs and other institutions of civil society.
The political atmosphere created by this violent, aggressive speech can only contribute to the increasing manifestation of an old South African cancer, political assassination. I’m waiting for some investigative reporter to put a picture together of the number and nature of political assassinations in the last two years, especially in KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo and Mpumalanga.
It does appear as if the dominant cliques in our ruling party are reverting to the culture that dominated the ANC while they were in exile. Anyone still starry-eyed about that period should read Stephen Ellis’s disturbing recent book about the ANC in exile, External Mission. It is not a pretty picture. When I look around me today, I see many of the same tendencies manifested in the military camps and in the Communist Party of the 1970s and 1980s resurfacing.
Any society should be deeply worried about a culture of intolerance and talk of violence, but we should be doubly concerned.
This is the case not only because of our bitter history, our demographics and the dangerous inequalities in our society, but because we are moving into a period where it is becoming clearer by the day that the ANC is losing its public appeal and might be challenged seriously at the polls in the near future.
There is a lot of talk of a new political party emerging from the ranks of ANC dissidents, of an alternative labour movement that would challenge Cosatu and of the DA making major inroads into traditional ANC constituencies.
If the present culture of intolerance and undercurrents of violence continue, South Africa may face a very serious threat to its stability when we get to a point where the ANC could face an electoral defeat.
As things stand now, I have little doubt that the elements of the ANC that became dominant after Polokwane and the Zuma ascendancy will not tolerate a handing over of power to a new party or alliance of parties.
If this culture still exists in, say, 2019, when we’re due to have a general election and the ANC could come under serious threat, we face the real possibility of a low-key civil war. And that is almost too ghastly to contemplate.